Interview with Agent Extraordinaire, Jim McCarthy

For your viewing pleasure today, I bring you an interview with my awesome agent Jim McCarthy!

Here's a little background info about Jim:

Jim McCarthy interned for DGLM while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. Jim was raised just outside of NYC and currently lives in Brooklyn.

As you can see, Jim is a New Yorker through and through! Hmm, this makes me mighty jealous--he can go to the Met and the MoMA any time he wants?! Grr...

Anyway, let's get started on this interview, shall we?

I noticed on your DGLM bio that you planned on becoming an urban designer in college. What made you decide to become an agent instead?

Heh. I didn’t so much decide to become an agent as I fell into it. The summer after my freshman year of college, I sent out about 40 resumes for part time jobs. Stacey Glick was the first person to call me back. I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, but I figured, “Hey, I like reading.”

I left the agency twice to go work places I thought would advance my ability to land a great job in urban planning. But I kept coming back to DGLM. And they kept taking me. So when someone left the agency the day I graduated from college, well…that was just kismet. Now it’s 11 years from the day I first stepped foot in the door, and I can’t imagine what I would have done if I didn’t luck into it.

What are you looking for in your slush pile right now? I assume you're searching for some awesome Twilight knockoffs, right? (Hehe, kidding.)

I just want to find something different! There isn’t any one thing that I’m desperate to find. It’s more that I’m chasing a feeling: when you hit something that stops you in your tracks and makes you think, “Now that hasn’t been done that way before.”

Huh, very interesting! So what percentage of your time do you spend on your slush? How long is your typical workweek?

Slush isn’t a huge part of the job. It moves pretty quickly as well. I’d say maybe five hours a week is all it takes to go through it. That’s before you factor in all the manuscripts, of course!

Judging the work week is trickier. It varies a lot. I’ll say this: we’re all in the office at least nine hours a day on weekdays, and we do most, if not all, of our reading at home. It’s not the kind of job you leave in the office, but that’s part of what makes it so rewarding!

When we talked on the phone a couple months ago, you mentioned that you were expanding your MG list. What made you decide to take on more middle grade?

My reasons for wanting to take on more middle grade are, admittedly, a touch impure. I just kept hearing from editors how much they were looking for it and how much of a deficit there was in the market for great middle grade writing. Everyone who has ever written a line of fiction is writing a teen novel these days, but the middle grade market remains underserved. It’s also a tricky age group to write for, so I just have a tremendous respect for authors who can pull it off.

Tell me about what goes through your mind when you've found a manuscript you want to represent. Do you mull it over for a couple days? Do you discuss it with the other agents at DGLM?

There’s very little mulling after I’ve decided I want to represent something. When I’m in the process of reading, I’m in my most critical place, looking for every reason I think something might not work. If I make it to the end and want to do it, there’s very little that will convince me otherwise. I get other reads on manuscripts, definitely, but that’s usually if I think the material might be better suited to that other agent.

So YA dystopian seems to be the "it" genre of the moment. Is this something you'd like to see more of as an agent? How much longer do you think this trend will last?

I’m scared that it’s getting too trendy. I LOVE The Hunger Games. And my own client Carrie Ryan writes extraordinary dystopian fiction. Margaret Atwood is also one of my favorite authors, and we all know how much she can do with a dystopia. My fear is that it will be overpublished. That said, I’m still extremely open to it, especially when done well!

Oh, I love Margaret Atwood. If any of you guys haven't read The Handmaid's Tale yet, go get it now!

What's your favorite writing conference to attend? Which conferences would you suggest for writers at the start of their career (pre-querying and querying)? What about for writers who are a little further along (agented and published)?

Most of the conferences I go to are aimed at beginner writers, and of those, I’d say the best I’ve been to was the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference (even if I did get altitude sickness and don’t plan on personally returning!). I’ve also been very impressed by the Surrey International Writers Conference.

For published writers, the conferences organized by organizations like RWA or SCBWI are the best way to go.

I've noticed that some agents and editors moonlight as writers. Do you have any aspirations to pen your own novels?

Oh, hell no! :) Really…no. Agenting is a full-time job and requires a lot of attention. I can’t imagine trying to do something else at the same time. I’ve also just never been a writer. I don’t feel that need to create, so I’m content to just keep reading!

Haha. I laughed at the "Hell no!" Love the honesty there!

Anyway, a friend of mine would like to know: "Do agents pal around together after work hours?" If so, do you guys have a secret agent society a la Skull and Bones? (Thanks to Lynn Colt for suggesting this question!)

Nah. I have friends who are agents, and there are some folks that you see at every cocktail party you attend and every conference you go to, but I don’t go to secret agent meetings after I leave the office. I wonder if I’m just not invited!

And now for some rapid-fire questions to finish things off:

Favorite book as a kid? I LOVED RL Stine’s Fear Street series and read entirely too many of them throughout grade school.

Favorite non-client book you've read recently? I just read the first five graphic novels in the Scott Pilgrim series and cannot wait for the sixth one to come out. I also really dug The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and am FINALLY reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which I’m dying over. It’s amazing.

Weirdest thing you've ever gotten in your slush pile? Now that everything is electronic, we get a lot less really creepy stuff then we used to. But I did once get a Bible wrapped in multiple layers of duct tape. What did it have to do with the query? That I never figured out.

Favorite restaurant in New York? You have to go to ABC Kitchen, which is still relatively new and a little tough to get a reservation at, so book ahead. The best meal I’ve had all year. I also love Perry St and Olives if you want to go upscale, Momofuku Ssam Bar for something a bit more casual, and any Indian restaurant on 6th Street because they all churn out the same good, cheap food, but you’ll feel totally empowered when you try to decide which to go into and all the doormen fight for your business.

Awesome stuff! Thanks so much for your time, Jim!